*This post is part of my Euro-tour series. I’m clearing up some very old travel posts, some of which were migrated from another site.
Guten Tag! Germany has one of the prettiest landscapes I have seen so far, with its vibrant colours that seem fit to burst out of every leaf, its cloudless blue skies and sapphire blue rivers. Our next stop on our itinerary was the beautiful town of Heidelberg. Surrounded by rolling green hills perched with castles and overlooking the River Rhine, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a place more picturesque than this.
As we approached Heidelberg in our bus, we were greeted by the most famous landmark in the area – Heidelberg Castle – which majestically overlooks the town and the flowing waters of the Rhine. Originally built in the 13th century, the castle has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. Although it is relatively small in comparison to some other European castles, nobles and kings once called this castle home as they stared out at their surrounding lands. In the 17th to 18th centuries, as the ruler of the area moved the court to a newer, grander castle, Heidelberg Castle fell into disarray, parts of its stone quarried for other buildings. It decayed even further during the French period, when most of Northern Europe was controlled by the Napoleonic French government, with townsfolk looting the castle for wood, stone and other materials.
Ironically, it was a French count – Charles de Graimberg – who saved the castle from falling into further disrepair, serving as its warden and living for a while in the building’s Glass Wing where he kept an eye out for looters. His work with the castle, which he commissioned for painters and writers to document (the olden-day equivalent of Instagram/ travel blog marketing, I should think) eventually drew interest from many tourists to visit Heidelberg. Even famed American writer Mark Twain wrote about the castle and its town.
Another major landmark here is the Old Bridge (Alte Bruecke), which connects the old part of town to newer establishments. Built in the late 1700s with sandstone, it is an example of a classical stone bridge building and spans the Neckar, a tributary of the Rhine river. We alighted at the base and proceeded to the bridge for photos.
It was my first time seeing such a deep blue river, disturbed only by occasional boats slicing through the surface like knife through butter. The sky, which was cloudless, seemed to stretch into an infinite horizon, while the banks were green and full of lush vegetation, lined with colourful, square-shaped buildings. I absolutely would not mind living here for the rest of my days, lol.
At one end of the bridge is a large arch, signifying the entrance to the old town. Originally part of the town’s wall, the two black helmets were later added on in 1786 when the bridge was built.
One of the most prominent statues on the bridge is a monkey holding a mirror. Records indicate that such a statue existed as early as the 15th century, but the original disappeared during the Nine Years War of the 17th century, fought between Louis XIV of France and a European coalition of the Holy Roman Empire. The current statue was only put up in 1979. You can put your head inside the monkey’s helmet-like hollow. If you rub the mirror, local legends have it that it will bring you good luck, and if you rub its fingers, it will ensure that you will return to Heidelberg someday! Next to the monkey are some bronze-cast mice, which are reported to bring fertility.
As you walk through the archway and into the town proper, one of the first buildings to greet visitors is the Town Hall (Heidelberg Rathaus). With its many windows and flowery plants lining the edges, it looks more like a posh hotel than a town hall. The building is located within the Marketplace, which is littered with cafes and small tables and chairs for tourists, where you can grab a coffee and dine al fresco.
Heidelberg is a touristy town. During our visit, it was crowded with people from all over the world and I could hardly see any locals, except those manning the stores.
A little history – modern Heidelberg has ‘existed’ at least since the 5th century. Did you know that the Filipino freedom fighter, Joze Rizal, lived and studied here for many years? He attended the prestigious University of Heidelberg, then considered a leading university in Europe.
We didn’t have a lot of time in town – just a couple of hours – which we spent wandering the streets and popping into whatever buildings seemed interesting. The houses are colourful and uniform, with an occasional turret or castle-like structure.
There is a large church in the centre of town called the Church of the Holy Spirit, its turret towering over everything in town. We took some pictures outside, but since there was a crowd waiting to go in, we opted to spend more time in a smaller church that we stumbled upon in one of the alleys instead.
The Jesuit Church (Jesuitenkirche) has an attractive, rosy pink facade. It was erected in the 1700s as a Catholic church and was originally built in a baroque style, although this was not preserved. All that remains of the original is a central altar painting. If you’re into history, the church houses a museum of sacred and liturgical art with objects from the 17th to 19th centuries, including treasures of gold and silverware.
The inside is so well kept it looks brand new.
The central altar painting.
We only had a couple of hours to spend in Heidelberg, before it was time to bid adieu to this lovely, historic town. I touched the monkey statue’s fingers, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to visit again someday!
Travel tips: The nearest international airports to Heidelberg are Frankfurt and Stuttgart. From Frankfurt, trains run regularly to Heidelberg and take approximately an hour.